Spider Man

It was a recent cool, dark morning as I walked onto my middle school campus.  I had no idea what danger awaited me just outside the door of Room 13 as I innocently approached the classroom.  The campus was quiet, and when I am not too tired I enjoy the chance to get to campus early to work undisturbed in my room. 

My wife and two kids were still at home asleep when the incident occurred.  Just outside the base of my classroom door, suspended in mid-air, was a gigantic black widow spider.  I knew that she lived in the little hole between the student lockers and the block wall of the classroom building (I had seen her web) but I had not been to school early enough to run into her.

These little ladies can be dangerous.  I didn’t like the idea of a black widow spider so close to the students and their lockers and frankly I was tired of the widow mucking up my door with its messy webs.  I had gone so far as to stuff construction paper into the hole to try to block the spider’s access to us all.  No luck.

It was time for a showdown.  Six in the morning and dark.  No one else around.  It was either her or me.  Slowly I removed my shoe, raised it high above my head, bent at the knees like someone about to hike a football, and came down on the  intruder in a lightning flash of power.  That’s when it happened.


As I swatted that spider in my football stance the whole seam in the back end of my pants popped open.  We’re not talking about a small rip, but a gap of about 8 inches that left me feeling exposed (and for good reason).  Fortunately, there was no one there at 6 am to witness this embarrassment.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have a spare pair of pants at school (I do now).

So I trudged back to the car, drove one half-hour home, another half-hour back, and got to school about 8.  My commute that morning totalled an hour and 30 minutes.  Needless to say, I didn’t get a lot of school work done.

Students Love Stories

I relate this incident to you, my fellow math teacher, because a story is a very powerful teaching tool.  All of us love hearing good stories and like to pass them on to others.  Some stories have the lesson embedded in the story itself, while others just heighten attention and prepare students for the lesson that is to come.

I shared my early morning spider adventure with my students that day and they were captivated by the story.  I hammed it up, of course, even though I don’t consider myself a polished story teller.  The connection forged with my students by the story, the way I felt telling it, and the way they responded to the story all created a perfect pre-cursor to the math lesson I was about to teach.  When the lesson started my students were focused and ready to learn.  I have no doubt that the shared story contributed to their focus.

Life is About Our Stories

Do you use stories in your math classroom?  Has anything fun, fantastic, or out of the ordinary ever happened in your math classroom?  Please share a story with us in the comments section below if you have a minute. 

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  1. “When are we going to need this in real life?” I am asked this question at least ten times a year, especially when we are discussing more abstract concepts like factoring or negative exponents. Usually, if I am in the middle of a lesson with no time to elaborate I will give a quick retort like “I just used it last period…” or “When you get a life you will find out”. One day, however, I did have a little extra time so I decided to give a more thoughtful explanation. “When in the real world would you ever do a sit-up? Sit-ups are an example of physical conditioning. These concepts teach us how to think logically, and to see patterns and relationships. Doing math is like doing a mental sit-up.” To which the student replied, “Mr. Wenk, no offense, but you don’t look like you’ve been doing many sit-ups.”

    • Mark Tully says:

      Thanks, James, for that parallel between physical conditioning and the mental conditioning that we engage in with our students. Our students may never use negative exponents in real life. I haven’t. However, we are teaching them to identify problems, think critically, and use the mathematical skills that they have internalized to strive toward solutions.

      While our students may not always realize it, they will transfer many of the skills that they learn in mathematics into other areas of their lives.

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